Q&A (and brownies) with J.J. Murray discussion

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The Nitty Gritty of Writing > character involvement

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message 1: by JC (last edited May 25, 2010 10:10PM) (new)

JC (ainathiel) I once read an article by a christian fundamental who wanted to prove J.K. Rowling was inviting the devil into her writing. One of his points was that Rowling claimed to be the characters in her story or see the setting of her story before she could write it down. The CF claimed she was explaining what being medium is and therefore it was a form of devil worship.

I was not taken aback by what Rowling was talking about because, if I cannot feel or see what my character is seeing I can't tell the story.
So the question is how much of characters in your story is you? And at what length would you go to understand your character? Of course if it is illegal do not incriminate yourself.


message 2: by Danielle The Book Huntress (last edited May 26, 2010 10:20AM) (new)

 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 68 comments I think there are aspects of myself in most of my characters, but to varying degrees. I don't know that trying to write the opposite of what is true to you will ever be entirely successful (at least for me), and it will likely feel very false and contrived. So I try to start with the basics. Think about what motivates my character and how that's common to human existence. I use that as a building block. If you look at what makes us similar despite our race, rearing, ethnicity, country, etc, you find there are a lot more similarities than differences as basic human beings. I like characters who have quirks and flaws b/c I am a quirky and flawed person. I will never write a character who is perfect. That is really false to me, and makes for a boring read.

I often use the "What If" scenario to building a character. I take a person and put her/him in a situation, and see what happens with them. The hope is they will grow over the course of the story.


message 3: by Randi (new)

Randi (The Artist Formerly known as Guitar Chick) (guitarchick) | 20 comments Oh my Gandalf, when are people gonna stop hatin Rowling! It's a Christian themed book like Narnia and LOTR!!!!
Anyway, I base my characters off friends and people. so they are quirky and flawed but still awesome.


message 4: by JC (new)

JC (ainathiel) I do the what if method in plots for example what if Juliet followed Romeo instead of staying in Verona.

I don't like the basing my characters off of people I know, in fact I don't even like using names of people I know. When I was younger and I told my friends, I was a writer, they used to ask me all the time put me in your book. It became a problem especially if my character did something they didn't like.
I might use aspects or attitudes of a people I know, bit pieces, because things like that happen unconsciously when I am writing.


message 5: by JC (new)

JC (ainathiel) I will also like to add, fundamentalist will not stop on books like Narnia, LOTR and Harry Potter, they made too much money to go unnoticed.


message 6: by Mimi (new)

Mimi Tremont | 54 comments There's portions of me in every character that I write. Whether its something as simple as a mole or as complex as the character's political views, I'm in there somewhere.

While I won't do anything illegal to better understand my characters, I will play the "what if" game with them. And I never...well, almost never, use people I know in my stories. I have put my daughter and one of her friends in one story. But they're secondary characters that are portrayed in a manner that's true to themselves. But I don't use names of family members, even though most of them don't really know about my writing.


message 7: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Murray (johnjmurray) | 250 comments Mod
Renee (from Renee and Jay) and Jonas Borum and Ruth (from Something Real) are based on real people. There's a lot of me in Peter (Original Love) and Jack (I'm Your Girl).

But other than them folks, my characters are hodgepodges of traits and lines I steal from other people in real life. I haven't been convicted of these thefts ... yet. I am such a sponge, but I believe you have to be a sponge to be a successful writer.

Absorb the people around you, and then wring them out onto the page.


message 8: by JC (new)

JC (ainathiel) I have heard that from authors being interviewed. People not seeing themselves in the author's work. The truth of it is that 1. people are rarely honest with themselves about themselves. ( I think my tongue just got tied).
2. We always see each other differently and no two people are alike or see the same things.


 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 68 comments I don't like to make my characters a cipher for real life people. It just doesn't feel right to me.


message 10: by JC (new)

JC (ainathiel) I don't like to base my characters on people I know. However I can see how and why other writers do it. It is like trying to understand the human condition. No matter what type of genre or time period you are writing about it is all seen through the prism of the present day and the way a writer sees life. Using aspects of a person like a woman who lifts her arms in the air and starts to sway to her favorite songs, shouldn't get anyone into a problem. That is a very generic response to music. Believe it or not, I like to think of it as a blend of you (the writer) and the person equals character.

I try to develop my characters more, so I have interview questions. I try to put myself in their brain and answer the questions as they would see it. I learned things about my characters I never thought about and I was able to write at least two vivid scene just by answering a question like someone is making you angry, why?


message 11: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Murray (johnjmurray) | 250 comments Mod
I know some real people (and y'all do, too) who are so out there that if you wrote about them, readers would find them unbelievable. Truth is stranger than fiction, right?

And yet, we create people in our writing from scratch sometimes who are more believable than real people.

We're magic like that. Nothing up our sleeves but dreams.


 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 68 comments I like the interview process, Jo. I think I need to use that.

Since I like to write about assassins, and I don't know any, I have to get inside their heads to ask why? The interview will help with this.


message 13: by JC (new)

JC (ainathiel) Yes it does. I read an article that stated well-rounded characters have to come from somewhere. Even when you don't use the info in the story. It has to be there the thing that made the character who they are.

To investigate my FBI character in a story, I visited the FBI Website and read the requirements of an agent and etc.


 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 68 comments I love the internet. What a great research tool.


message 15: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Murray (johnjmurray) | 250 comments Mod
I like other people best. They give you the minutiae of their lives, the absolute purest forms of information.

I talked the ears off a dozen librarians for I'm Your Girl, and some of what they shared I could not put into print. Stuff even I didn't believe.

I talked as best as I could to Jar Man (from Something Real) while he listened to his Mason jar at the corner of Patterson and 14th Street. I couldn't keep up with his rants, sermons, and suddenly wise sayings. I couldn't have made him up out of my head in a million years.

Use the internet to find these people. They're out there ... in more ways than one.


message 16: by JC (new)

JC (ainathiel) I agree with you Danielle. The internet has its uses. I also understand J.J.'s point as well. There are exclusive terms and jargon for every profession, community, etc. If you are not a part of it you have to research it and the best places to get info are from the people who live the life.


 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 68 comments You are right about talking to people. Living in Texas for many years, and California for several, I have met some very interesting people. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.


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